By Nancy Tannler

At the Lents Neighborhood Livability Association meeting (LNLA), a presentation was given that explains Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty’s plans to assist the police and fire departments with individuals experiencing houselessness and/or a mental health crisis. 

Her vision, along with the support from several other agencies, is Portland Street Response (PSR) for non-emergency calls. 

Since 2013 calls regarding “unwanted persons” has increased by 60 percent. Using police/fire resources for these calls is inefficient, doesn’t address the root cause, nor do the police have time to help solve the problems for those in crisis. The PSR pilot program is an attempt to fix the gap in services for these individuals.

PSR will be housed with Portland Fire & Rescue, a division Commissioner Hardesty oversees. It is modeled after CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets), a mobile crisis intervention in the Eugene-Springfield metro area.

The pilot program will begin its trial this spring in the Lents neighborhood, five square miles bordered by SE Powell, north; SE Clatsop, south; SE 82nd, west and SE 111th, east. 

Depending on the 911 call data, the pilot will initially run Monday-Friday, from 10 am-6 pm, but these hours could potentially change according to need. If the program is successful, it will be expanded to all Portland neighborhoods. 

PSR will be a two-person, trauma-informed team able to go directly to the person in crisis with a van that can provide immediate stabilization in case of urgent medical need or psychological crisis. 

The van will carry food, water, hand warmers and blankets with the intent of building trust between the person in crisis and the team.

After the team has addressed the needs of the immediate situation, they can either refer or advocate and transport to the next step in treatment. These assistance measures can take up to 50 minutes, time our local police officers don’t have for non-emergency calls.

One of the filters 911 will establish before dispatching PSR is if the individual is violent, carrying a weapon or suicidal. Individuals who fit this criteria will still fall under the purview of the police.

More often than not, an individual is in need of what is known as a welfare check and PSR team can respond. This can be a person who is down, intoxicated or drug-affected.

The hope of the PSR pilot program is to reduce the number of non-warrant arrests, reduce the number of people going to hospital emergency rooms and reduce the number of behavioral health and non-emergency medical calls the Police and Fire departments respond to. 

The pilot program is for one year and will be monitored and adjusted depending upon how well it is working. The people of Lents experience a lot of fallout from people living on the streets. This is why Hardesty chose to begin the PSR pilot here. 

Mayor Wheeler has allocated $500,000 for this project. Any money not used will be returned to the general fund.